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tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  July 21, 2013 12:00pm-1:01pm EDT

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this week astrophysicist and his new book brilliant blunders. ..
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>> the interests span a broad range of topics from black holes to extrasolar planets and the emergence of possible intelligent life forms in the universe. his popular book, the golden ratio what a prize in 2003 and he is a well published author and he's with us to discuss his most recent book, brilliant blunders from darwin time find. colossal mistakes by great scientists that have changed our understandings of life and the universe. it was released in may of 2013 and has received excellent reviews from "the new york times" and "washington post." congratulations to you.
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this sort of exposes some of the flaws of the great giant in science. you look at this and it is great, but it is also very interesting. tell us about this. >> guest: this is part of the reason that shows that even the most luminaria scientist can make big blunders and it is somewhat different from the rest of us when we make our own blunders. because this is the part of the way that science works my wanted to expose that part of it. >> host: is this a book that the scientific community has said, wait a minute, don't talk about are seems like this, or have they really looked from the information you gave it made the examples that you gave them
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count? >> guest: when they were in the process of writing this, they said i chose the five great scientists and many of them have different blunders. so i didn't get much resistance. >> those of us who have had bad ideas were just inspired by this. okay, so some of the blunders are based upon that information at the time that the scientists had. other times he decided is due to the competition. now, you have to to sign a number, what percent of the scientific blunders were in your estimate because that information would be the prize. >> i normally would not have called it a blunder it was just information with the person who has made a blunder did not understand that they might have had that information as well.
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about half have that information and that is not the part that counts against them. the part that counts against them as a blunder is the part where they didn't realize that they might have that information as a result of this. >> host: how did you keep an idea and arrive at these facts about blunders? >> i have spent a great deal of time thinking about this. i have decided that there are five science times. send a second welcome i did not want to go to bat into history. because if you go too far back,
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maybe to aristotle, almost everything you say can be wrong or proved differently. so you cannot quite like that. so i only went to the middle of the 19th century and so on and it is way that connects them and in this particular case, i decided that this was the evolution of life on earth and the evolution of the earth and the evolution of stars in the universe as a whole. >> host: so you selected charles darwin, lord kelvin, linus pauling, fred hoyle, and albert einstein. let's talk about each of these starting with darwin. he is known mostly the serial evolution. but as i understand it, he never really even use the term evolution in his actual original writings. >> guest: that's right, he never use the word evolution in his
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book. however, but the last part of the book has evolved but the word evolved has been a part of this. so you are right. i mean, it was not accepted and defined. but given that it has been like this, it has been much more popular. >> host: so the theory of natural selection later became adopted by those, can you tell us a little bit more about what drove him? >> basically he came out with the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. so he did one big theory, which was composed of a number of steps in it, for example, it was
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the concept of evolution and the species are not immutable, they change and so on and so forth. it was the concept of this that changes happen very slowly, like this and it is not that you with one species and you see it turning into another species. you have to wait hundreds of thousands of generations and so on and so forth and there's a lot of branching where you start with one thing with splits and this is how you get the diversity and so on. and then there was the concept that all life that we see with all of the species and everything that it is a .7 million or however many there are, but this came from one form of life. and then you had this one mechanism to support all of these things. so how does all of that work.
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>> guest: in your book, darwin's great blunder is the lack of understanding of genetics. can you tell us a little bit about that? >> yes, john admits that genetics is a big mystery and so on on and so forth its light do not blame him for that. because we did not know any better than anybody at the time. however the theory that existed was blending heredity and we mix them together and you take red and yellow and you get green and so on. the problem was that he did not understand it was such a theory
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imagine the other population so imagine a population of one black cat and one white cat. as a black cat you have some advantages. but in the blending theory if you blend of white cat and a black cat you will get a great cat. sometimes you get up early shade of gray cat. and then it just gets diluted and deluded so that is really the blunder. it is really like shuffling the decks of cards it doesn't matter how much i shuffle, but still have this in my hand. this is so to say that it
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doesn't change until you blend it. so this is what he didn't get with the theory that he was operating. >> guest: so what is the remaining step? did he leave this puzzled in his life he left letters to us where we write about this. i think it is but it turns out that heredity is more like this rather than like fusion. it is like a child.
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and they understood that somehow genetics must work this is the mathematics of the calculate with the ability and so forth and so on it when completely in the wrong direction and someone. >> host: it is interesting in your book and it's like he put signs on hold. what made him tick? >> guest: well, you know, he just loved nature. journal after journal and so forth and so on. he left medical school. even when he was about to get
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married and it's like he just had this so forth and so on. you know, it is like he made a comment that it's better than all age, it's better than a dog, and so forth. [laughter] so things like that. but i'd rather buy books and things like that and i forget what else he said. and that it's a waste of time. it is interesting that he never published a real genealogy. but in his notebooks it was
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obvious only one thing that came close to this and even that was the top of the diagram. >> host: perhaps a more humble man in history. when he read about this book, it was very interesting. so forth and so on, it's like you see them in dc the signs of their humble beginnings.
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lord kelvin was a tremendous influence in science. it was like 305 kelvin today, let's go to the bowl today. so it's like tell us about lord kelvin. >> guest: in physics, it is true that he was as much as a visitors as he was a mathematician and engineer. it is actually applying them to a variety of things.
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so he developed all kinds of viewpoints in general so he went there to study electricity and a lot of work in that. he was really a person who was almost in every branch of physics or engineering at the time. >> host: he had an understanding of the age of the earth, if it was a theory today, it would be a very non-popular theory today. please tell us about the age of understanding of the earth compared to today. >> guest: first let me see the say the good things about that. the good thing was that he
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actually came up with a way to go about this. so he came up with this incredible idea and so that was his idea. and it has been like losing energy since then if we measure very accurately how the temperature changes, we will actually know the age and it's a bit like you take a hot turkey from the oven and you put it in the freezer and then measuring how the temperature would change you should basically calculate
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for how long and it was really physical that he would even do that and it is about a faster a 45%. the age of the earth is four and a half billion. so the question is why. if you are so clever and you did the physics right, how can you be so wrong. so most people will tell you because of radioactivity. but at that time it was not even discovered. it provides heat to the earth the assumption that the earth was formed ones is not entirely
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correct but it turns out that that was not the major problem with this calculation. the major humble primacy did not take into account the possibility that he could not operate as efficiently as he originally thought. the material acts more like a fluid. with the fluid we have convection, you know, with the fluid moving and so forth and so on, transporting this and you get convection. you know, the colder stuff sinks in and comes back up and so on and you get the circulation. he did not take that into account. >> host: and trying to measure the age of the earth, he may have contributed to science just
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in the quest. did he encourage other researchers to do the same and to follow what he tried to do and is that the contribution plan a. >> guest: i think the contribution is even bigger than what you suggested. the thing is that before he came up with this calculation, they thought that the weight of the earth is so vast that you cannot even put the meaning on and so on. is it that we saw no sign for beginning or end. so when he did his calculation and came up with a disturbing number looks was too short. they said oh, they must have taken billions of years and so forth.
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it is part of geology. and that is largely such a part of it. this is part of the contribution >> guest: thank you. >> host: mario, you are teaching us about some of the great scientist in history. moving on to linus pauling. we know about him from basic chemistry and physics books in high school. please tell us where he went wrong.
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>> guest: is perhaps one of the greatest of all time, some would say he was the youngest person, by the way who was [inaudible] one was for peace and the other was chemistry. he got these prizes without fearing any of them with anyone else. which is very unusual. he did many things in chemistry. in particular, he identified the importance of the hydrogen bomb in complex molecules he was one of the first people there is
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nothing too serious about life. there are no vital forces in this way. it is just understanding the chemistry and you understand the molecules of life. as part of that he actually managed to find the main structure of many properties and he really determined us it was not known before. >> guest: fred hoyle, one of the lesser of the scientists in the united states, he is well recognized to be one of the giants. please tell us about who he was. >> guest: it is extremely well known in the uk. he wrote many popular books. he was known to the scientific community as well.
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he is certainly one of the few biggest astrophysicists of the 20th century and there's no doubt about that. for a period of maybe 25 years, he was arguably the biggest astrophysicists. in all of the elements that you and i are made of, at the beginning of the universe there was hydrogen and light elements and everything that life depends upon. oxygen and phosphorus and iron and so on. all of those elements forged inside the stars.
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so we are stardust. and this is a person who came up with the theory for that and how all of that work together and how you form all of those elements. >> host: it's almost ironic. because didn't he believe the universe was essentially constant and it was set in time and there was not very much change? >> guest: correct. will is the person who termed the coin big bang. that the universe starts with the big bang theory but he also said instead of saying that all the universe started in one big bang, he said the universe is
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always the same will always stay the same and is in a steady state. so i'll everything appears to change, it is the universe at large. and he knew that the universe has expanded. he knew that because in the late 1920s, how can it stay the same. it was very slow, one they couldn't measure.
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and in the big bang, he wanted everything to be created at once. it is amazing how they quantified how what no one else wanted to quantify. i think when you are a child, anything that cost more than $7 as a million dollars to you. >> host: is nebulous, it has no meaning. yet many of these scientists attempted to do calculations on the change of energy and the size of the universe is a common driver and many of them may be giant blunder as you pointed out in your book. we are talking to mario livio, author of "brilliant blunders: from darwin to einstein - colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe." after the break we will talk
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about albert einstein would have been in his life. >> select which podcast on a website you'd like to download and listen to "after words" when you travel. >> host: a possibility of intelligent life outside the universe. we are here and we are talking about mario livio and his new book "brilliant blunders: from darwin to einstein - colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe." a highly acclaimed book that outlines the giant mistakes. mistakes that scientists have
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made over the years. let's talk about albert einstein who had some very great positives and negatives about his life. what was life like for him? >> guest: he was jewish. but he was okay even though in 1919, he was recognized as a german scientist and so on. eventually he had to leave and came to the u.s.
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there are much of the revolutions in science and we have had one year that was known as the miracle year. there was another year that was not a miracle year that set the foundations for much of modern physics. by that i mean the theories of general relativity and the electric effects it is not just mathematical and they will do things and so forth and so on. so there is no aspect of physics but i am saying that in stay on. he is also a well-known
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pacifists pacifist and he did write a letter eventually to the construction of the atomic bomb. and having seen what the bombs can do. but that entire possibility of losing energy that way, where you can convert mass into energy. now, of course, you cannot blame him for writing the physics, which led to that same physics there are many other positive
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things and it also led to nuclear weapons and things like that. >> host: can you talk about peace? you had a nobel prize for peace and there is an intense respect for human life. is there something that they saw in nature was chemistry and physics? >> guest: it's a very good question. i haven't given it much thought about this and it is advocated to this direction.
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einstein said the biggest mistake that he ever did was writing that particular letter and the construction of the atomic bomb. it is more a question of these truly great scientist but have an open mind. they really thought about the whole universe. it is issues becoming extinct, humans becoming extinct, things of that nature and so forth and so on. therefore a number of them became part of this. now, this is not all scientists are like that. scientists like edward teller
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that are advocating nuclear weapons. so the reason that i fell into this and you'll probably find more pacifist among scientists than those among the population in general. >> host: some scientists can see what is inside of human molecules and others may see the art and beauty and appreciate that more. >> guest: he really loved music and so forth and so on. so that must've been a part of this. >> host: he was a genius, but he couldn't remember where he lived. he would forget his keys at times. he went on to get on a bus at princeton and he was stumbling through his change and he
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couldn't figure out how much to pay for the bus ride and the driver actually stopped and counted the coins for him and took the fair. tell us about this extreme on both ends where you have someone who fumbles through that, the more simple things in life. >> guest: i am not an expert on how the mind works like that, but i have seen how it works with genius and creativity and i remember the conclusion of that particular study was that it was an extremely creative individual who tends to have these positions which are stemming from each other. and they have extreme humble and
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proud and quality of personality. and most people find it somewhere in the middle that is where they lie. but the people, many of the people that turn out to be extraordinarily creative, they have the ability to host this to the extreme. it is probably part of what you describe. with everyday life, we do have this concept. words like he or she stumble through life and every other aspect even though they are very smart. so there must be something like that going on. >> host: tell us about where einstein went wrong. he had the clear-cut berry and he omitted a term and can you tell us a little bit about that?
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>> host: he formulated a theory of general relativity and the theory basically said what we call gravity is not a force among space, but it's rather a station of how it occurs. for example if i jump on a trampoline, it will move around that gravity where i sat. if i sit on a trampoline. so basically it causes based curve or two warp like this. and the planets move in a curved space. this is the essence of general relativity that privacy is
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really some sort of a curvature of an attraction and it has been an attraction that was caused by the way space curves. and in the space curves and it tells a gravity had a move. that is how it works great. now, one of the greatest days of modern-day science. >> host: was he the top to be of the scientists? >> guest: i would see was the top one. i would say his theory is so far correct. but then there are some details in the details are the following. so einstein thought he formulated his theory and try to apply it to the universe as a whole in 1917, he thought that the universe was static and nothing more and everything was in place. but then he said, wait a second. and he said if everything attracts each other.
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how can they not move? i mean, this universe is going to collapse under its own weight. so they basically told you what they did. and if we would call it today, he ended his term in this equation that introduced us to go forth, which precisely dominated graham gravity at every point because he wanted to keep everything static. because if there was this for a while, he was happy. he decided he could balance gravity at this point and it was very important. then in the late 1920s, however, for whom the telescope is made. when einstein heard this he said, wait a second, if
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everything is not static but extending, will gravity will do no slowdown this in the same way that i take the keys out of my pocket and the gravity slows them down. so he took his turn out from the equation. >> host: this is one of the terms in the equation. >> guest: yes. >> host: there was one term about the geography of space and it is determined by all those within the universe. and then he entered another term as well. now he says i don't need this because all that gravity is doing is just slowing us down.
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in 1998, not that long ago, we discovered is not only our universe expanding, but it is speeding up an accelerating. it is preparing to excel and the process should be slowing down. but instead it is speeding up. you know, that tells me that the next time, the real blunder appears to have been taking this out rather than putting the same. he could have predicted this in 1917 that the university should be speeding up, which we now know from 1998. >> host: almost as if he didn't
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understand that it was a placeholder. >> guest: that is right. >> host: it is amazing because there are two lessons here. one is that when somebody has a master of the subject, we should listen to their wisdom. on the other hand, we have seen how they have made major mistakes and we need to question that. tell us a little bit from your research of these five great scientists and what they have done right and wrong. >> i think the main take-home message is that science is not in a headlong rush to the truth. it's not a direct path that leads from a to b.
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physics and the zacks our blunders and so forth. some people, you almost get the impression that science is of course a general reference. but no, it is not like that at all. you know, he thought about this for a long time. until he came up with a correct theory and so on and so forth. and then you have this particular blunder. so science progresses in some ways through the blunders. second, even the biggest scientists make blunders. and it is not surprising that they make blunders. because usually this comes up with a big idea and it involves
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taking a calculated risk. when you take risks, sometimes it pans out and other times it does not. you can have a situation where they make blunders and we should always be aware of that. in many cases in science, but in particular in mathematics and theoretical physics and so on, sometimes you have situations where people do their best work when they are relatively young. and as they grow older, they are a bit reluctant to settle into a life of incremental science. because it was that i did this
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big thing and the person who found this, you know, then sometimes they venture into areas which are even outside of their area because they still want to make big progress. but occasionally they make blunders. >> host: so you said that they made these relatively early in their life. and after having huge achievements, it almost allows them to wander into areas where you have a false confidence or a lack of direction or revel in the previous victories and it can result in a somewhat misguided future?
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>> guest: in this case there is no question and there was an original idea way back when. then it took 13 years he came up with a structure that was going to figure this out. there was one point that did not exactly agree. so they were building blocks that took them years to publish. it turned out that it was correct. a small discrepancy that he couldn't explain that she didn't need worry about that. but then when he went to do a model for dna, then he had a
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false sense of confidence. and i learned that my original hunch was correct. so he worked for about one month in earnest. and he turned out to be completely wrong instead of inside-out, violating basic character, he wrote the book on a. i think it is very much part of the spirit. >> host: was there a competitive spirit that they could've taken back like with the protein structure, you mentioned that linus pauling may have been in a
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rush? >> guest: yes, he was in a rush. but you did know that the group in london and the group in cambridge, for example, you knew that they had better x-ray data than he had. and he was afraid that the day, you know, would publish something beforehand. >> host: bill gates mentioned that success is a lousy teacher. it sounds like you have seen before. >> guest: yes, i would say that.
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>> host: tell us about how we learn from mistakes and science. we have really advanced the field. i think of how we have made some tragic mistakes in medicine over the years. we gave the vaccine almost all the children of the world and realize later that certain animals, it can cause lymphoma in certain animals. but luckily it didn't in human beings. can you tell us a little bit about about how we have learned from the state of science and maybe your thoughts on the biggest blunder of the blunders you identified in your book. >> guest: i think science mistakes part of the scientific method. he basically says you can only prove a theory correct. you can never prove it wrong. the possibility is one of the
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hallmarks of this theory. the fact that it can be falsified. you have certain facts from experimental observations and you construct a theory based on those things and then this is a really scientific theory, you should be able to speak with some prediction about the observation that is not being done and then you make those observations and if they turn out not to agree, you can base it on something that will progress. this is how science progresses and this is how the scientific method really works. so finally, it is part and parcel of these kind of processes. now, it is not that you should be sloppy and completely
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deliberately out of this way. you should suggest this and eventually you will find it very -- you may find a theory that is wrong. but it is how you find a better theory. with the theory of gravity, it is replaced with einstein's theory of general relativity. when i drove all my kids now, i would apply gravity because i don't need news gravity with speeds and so on. so it continues to be a part of general relativity and so on. this is what can happen.
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in some cases it turns out to be completely wrong. >> host: on the back of your book, it is the genius is defined as those who can make all of those who can make progress in the least amount of time. there are a lot of different forces in science today. when darwin wanted to take this under the world, today we have to raise funding and there are pressures and academics and science and progress and government budgets. you are one of the great minds. you have worked on the telescope program for hubble, you have worked on other things. what is your feeling on the state of science today? >> as you point out correctly, there are many challenges.
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science has progressed a lot. funding has become a serious problem with the fact that there are certain problems. for instance, things can cost many billions of dollars that can only be supported by something like the whole of europe and you cannot even have an individual support something like that. so there is no question that that has become a problem. it is very ambitious, but also a very costly program that may cost a lot of money and so on. so as a result of this, there is a certain fear for making a mistake. because some people make a mistake and they may see their
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funding cut for things like that and so forth and so on. one of the things that i wanted to encourage by writing this book is to encourage the thinking in terms of certain ideas. again, sometimes we like to think outside of the box. but when you think outside of the box, you might make a mistake. because it could be construed as unconventional. i would like all of our evaluation processes and funding and so on, taking the calculated risk-taking to allow for potential situations where people say, we know that this is
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risky. but there is a potential to allow for a certain amount of error. side-by-side, we work in a careful fashion with science. >> that is why i find these blunders to be inspiring. by pointing out the colossal mistakes with the scientific greats in history, i think it inspires us to take some risks using good and scientific methods and i think there are a lot of implications for today. in your own field. i have seen this in my field of medicine. dc in your field of astrophysics in theory that gets a lot of attention and momentum and not sufficient questioning? and do you see great people and theories and astrophysics where there is potentially a giant blunder that may be
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underrecognized? >> you may know that we have a theory which is sometimes called a straight theory. it is a theory that is supposed to unify all the forces of nature and explain all of the particles that we see in all of that and so on. it is the best candidate that we have at the moment. for all of the forces of nature and so on. however, experimental tests for this theory have so far been few, if any. so it could turn out that this entire theory is going in the wrong direction. now, should we stop doing this? i do not think so. because we don't have a better theory at the moment. i mean, is the best candidate and the greatest mind existing
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today. in spite of working this theory. i think we should continue to work. but keeping in mind all the time but it's possible that this will turn out to be a completely different direction than what we thought. >> host: thank you for writing your book, "brilliant blunders: from darwin to einstein - colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe." i think it is such a contribution to the culture of science and allows us to learn the lessons from history. it was wonderful talking with you, sir. congratulations on your book. >> guest: thank you for having me. >> that was "after words." booktv signature program in which authors of the latest books are interviewed by journalists, public policymakers, legislators, and others familiar with the material. it airs every weekend on booktv at 10:00 p.m. on
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saturday and 12:00 a.m. on monday. you can also watch us online, go to and click on "after words" in the booktv topic lists on the upper right side of the page. >> what are you reading this summer? booktv wants to know. >> the first book is by a pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist and it is entitled who stole america. it is a real eye opener that the government really wants to understand how we got to where we are today, the average american and how they are. and i think that this is one of the most thoughtful and as i
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said, i opening reads that i have read in a long time. i have read this before and i would highly recommend this book. this includes what can be learned from the policies and lost 30 to 40 years that may have contributed to this and it is highly relevant. in the second part of the book that i have read is a rather small one in terms of pages. it is very instructive. it is called ever ancient, ever new. and it is written by archbishop john quinn. one of the great american bishops who was an intellectual
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and he uses structures of the catholic church. it is a very large bureaucracy. so how can we do this better, and i think that all institutions can and should go to this form. it is in addition to many other books that have been published by this author and this includes those who we admire a great deal. ever ancient, ever new. >> let us know what you are reading this summer. posted on our facebook page or send us an e-mail at booktv at
1:00 pm >> now a recent visit to stanford university with a guest who sat down with the author of the book first principles. it was conducted in an interview on campus. it is part of a college series interviews. >> host: now joining us is john taylor how to restore america's prosperity and the secretary is getting started on the book. want to give everyone an idea of where you're coming from. >> guest: we have a number of stents that we went through in government. one was in the u.s. navy. then i served with


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